A brief conversation this morning on the side of the road as we wandered along caused me to ponder. An elderly fellow Nico and I often meet on our wanderings stopped to chat. Covid-19 inevitably came up amidst other topics. We both commented on the response of many people in the USA, how they want to express and emphasise their own individual and personal freedom to choose and ‘do’ over and against the well-being of the communities in which they live. It certainly isn’t confined to the USA but we wondered how people living in the nation that has over 100,000 deaths and high levels of infection are more concerned about what they want to do than the well-being of the community? We also commented on the relative capacity and wisdom of various world leaders – the people in power!
It was this line that got me thinking – the people in power, who have power to make decisions on behalf of the societies in which they live. This notion of power feels, to me, to be at the heart of many things we are seeing around us. Scientists will tell us that the power of the human race to dominate and destroy land and habitat, and the power to travel and move freely across the world, makes pandemics such as we are experiencing more inevitable. A virus hidden in deep jungles has more possibility of connecting with humans as the jungles and forests are decimated and we live closer to the sources of such viral enemies. An infection in one part of the world is able to quickly travel via human movement and soon everyone in impacted.
More than that though, I wonder if what we see in people agitating for more freedoms, protesting and taking action is really about reclaiming some control, order and power in personal life? I wonder if what we experience is humans who feel the need to be empowered and to control something in life, take things into their own hands and ‘do as they please?’ We see evidence of humanity’s need for power and control in so much of life. Young (and not so young) who get behind the wheel of a fast, powerful car and feel the sense of exhilaration as they press the pedal to the metal and fly down highway and byway. They are in control of a great power, whether wisely and skilfully or not is another question. In political manoeuvrings there is the desire for power and to have authority they can wield for good or ill. Across the world we see examples of egotistical (narcissistic?) leaders taking control and abusing power to dominate people, violate human rights and use violence and fear to control and manipulate people.
Whether through wealth, positional authority, legal controls, fame or any other means, many seek power they can wield. This is power that people can hold, control and use. It is power in their hands and at their disposal and it can be very dangerous! Such power requires great wisdom and compassionate awareness. It should be about the common good of the Earth and all inhabitants but rarely is. There are a few leaders who have been formed through struggle and suffering, whose egos are suitably ‘squashed down’ and who can handle such power with grace and wisdom. I think of the likes of Nelson Mandela, who through the crucible of suffering (27 years imprisonment) was humbled and vulnerable and gained wisdom. Alas, much power wrests in the hands of foolish and greedy individuals who are self-interested and think little of others.
This week across the Christian Church, the third major festival occurs. It is called Pentecost. Originally this Greek work indicated the Feast of Weeks (a week of weeks after Passover – hence ‘pente’= 50 days). It was also called Shavuot, a Jewish Festival of harvest but also recalling Moses receiving of the law on Mt Sinai. The context of the story is the first Jewish Festival of Pentecost after the first Easter (set against Jewish Passover). The disciples and followers of Jesus were gathered together awaiting the promised gift of the Spirit to come to them – in power. As they waited, prayed and on this day prepared for the celebration, there was a sound like wind and something like tongues of fire fill their room. This was Luke’s attempt to describe the Spirit coming upon the people in power. In the story (Acts 2:1-21), there is confusion and chaos as people are filled with this ‘power from on high’ and their joy, hope and the experience overwhelmed them and flowed out into the city of Jerusalem. This fearful, uncertain group of people suddenly spoke out with courage and faith, in languages of the world they inhabited. Jerusalem, filled with pilgrims from across the Empire had people of many language and culture and they all heard the proclamation of God’s love, grace and Reign in the language of their heart. The joy, passion and vitality of these followers of Jesus overwhelmed many people who responded by joining the group that quickly swelled in number and continued to do so as God’s love and Presence in Spirit transformed them.
The power they felt and experienced was not a power they could control or manipulate. It was a power they had to submit to and give themselves up to. It was and is a power that transforms people and communities as the flow of love and justice, wonder and hope, joy and mercy floods life. It is about the Reign of God that stands over and against all the reigns of kings, queens and rulers of all the dominions on Earth. It is a Realm of love that draws us out of ourselves and connects us through relationship as a human family that is part of the material world of time and space, which finds life and being in the heart of God’s love. This is an uncontrollable power that carries us along. It overwhelms us, like the Apostle Paul who, on his mission to round up and imprison Christians, was overwhelmed on the Damascus Road, brought to his knees by a light and a voice. He submitted to this power and let himself go into its wonder and life and was given a new direction, mission and way of being that was not his but the Spirit of God’s.
The difference between these powers is that one we want and believe we can have, own and control and the other we must let go of ourselves and allow its flow to take us where it will. This is a journey of faith, trusting that God’s love and grace is sufficient and answers the deepest yearning of the human heart. It is the realisation that God is our destination, our home and where we belong, and this power of Spirit will lead us into new life that is connected and relational. This is the Week of Reconciliation and invites us to think and act for reconciliation with the Indigenous Peoples of this land. Relationship is at the heart of the Indigenous cultures that occupied this land for millennia. The Spirit gave wisdom and life to live relationally with land, country, and each other in complex systems. We have much to learn from their wisdom and to help undo the dominating use of power that dehumanises and destroys. The power of the Spirit is lifegiving love for all.